The rise of the digital CFO

August 13, 2019 Shruti Patel

How technology is transforming the function of financial executives

We live in a world where the workforce is changing dramatically, including digital transformation in finance. Technology and the automation of basic transactional tasks are shifting how processes are done and how executive leaders are approaching their business—specifically chief financial officers (CFOs).

The traditional role of a CFO is transforming to become more digitized, driven by the tools we use in the financial industry today, such as cloud environments, machine learning and artificial intelligence. These tools are enabling people and processes to become faster, smarter and efficient, motivated by the expectation of immediacy in today’s consumer-driven world. Having access to instantaneous data and insights sets the precedent for organizations and their employees alike; keeping up with this curve separates those who will remain competitive in the marketplace, and those who will not.

What makes a digital CFO?

Any leadership role requires focusing on what’s currently being done and ultimately doing it better. When it comes to being considered “digital,” CFOs—and leaders in general—are constantly asking themselves how they can improve, whether it be from an accounting, personnel or process perspective. Consistently evaluating end-to-end financial procedures and noting how to make them more agile, mobile and automated is a habit that enforces accelerated progress and increased efficiency.

While there is no set list of attributes that define a digital CFO, many follow certain trends or focus on similar frameworks to undergo financial digital transformation:

  • Agile processes and mobile connectivity
  • Leveraging social networkers to connect
  • Solidified data security
  • Automation via digital platforms
  • Continuous learning and process improvement

The listed attributes should not come as a surprise. Most companies are already focused on these items to ensure they maintain industry relevance for their financial functions. While not a requirement by any means, they serve as tools and approaches to innovation. This allows finance teams, and ultimately organizations themselves, to improve at a more rapid pace.

Some of these attributes can be applied to the internal side of the organization as well. Thinking through processes from an end-to-end perspective not only allows externally-facing functions of business to succeed, but also keeps internal processes innovative. This streamlining provides additional time for finance leaders to focus more on strategic, value-add initiatives and less time on transactional or reactive tasks.

Robotics and the digital CFO

Robotics process automation (RPA) is changing the way CFOs can automate processes within their financial organizations, such as expediting or eliminating tedious, repeatable finance and accounting tasks. Today’s technology can utilize machine learning to copy repetitive, time-consuming responsibilities, such as building multi-step financial reports or processing transactions. Robotics technology can also record steps completed during targeted tasks, which can then be used to automate the task; particularly useful when these duties require inputs in multiple systems and provide increased chance for human error.

While not everything has become automated due to RPA, several finance business processes are often considered, including invoice processing, cash application and receivables clearing, and payroll processing.

Artificial intelligence and financial digital transformation

Unlike RPA, which records and automates processes, artificial intelligence (AI) can analyze relationships between data and corresponding results, spot trends, apply logic, and ultimately mimic human tasks. AI technology has the ability to read and apply instructions to complete basic tasks that would otherwise be done by a human, optimizing time and usage of resources. Defining and tagging desired results (i.e., user feedback) is the main required user input needed to trigger AI. Chatbots are a common example of this applied AI technology as they usually intake information and respond accordingly based on previously received questions. Report writing is also an emerging application for AI.

Digital CFOs, enterprise risk and global compliance

Enterprise risk has also become a significant item on a CFO’s agenda. For global companies, in-country statutory reporting and payment requirements are ever-expanding and changing. Many of these reporting requirements revolve around employees and employment taxes, and many countries require digital filings; those that don’t are slowly moving in that direction. Non-compliance can result in significant fines or even losing the ability to secure work permits. As such, many CFOs have launched programs to ensure digital filing and global governance surrounding these mandatory activities.

Our everyday lives are redefining the digital industry

While CFOs seem to have a lot on their plates, they aren’t the only ones who are pressed to become more digital—most of us experience it every day. Just by reordering your food delivery service or by checking your social media platforms on the train, you are encouraging more and more companies to become agile and mobile; not to mention cheaper, faster and smarter. From the retail store owner who uses the cloud to check product availability and pricing to the truck driver who manages the shipment tracking and supply chain, the way we do business has become a cross-functional, digital realm.

Want to learn more about how Alight can help your organization tap into this digital transformation?

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